Rivers as Roadways


Before roads crossed our nation, rivers served as roadways to move cargo. Learn about the engineering of the canal era of transportation.


1. Early in our country’s history, canoes were used to move cargo from one location to another. As the need to move heavier loads increased; stronger, larger wooden boats were constructed. Compare and contrast pictures of canoes and wooden boats. How do they differ?

2. Unfortunately, the route of the rivers and natural barriers like waterfalls or rapids limited the areas a boat could travel. At these obstacles, goods would have to be unloaded onto a wagon to complete the trip. This process was costly and time consuming. What are some solutions you think could fix this problem?

3. Artificial waterways called canals were constructed around these natural limitations. Canals allowed goods to be moved more quickly and economically than before. Look at the pictures of some canals. What do they look like? What features do they have in common? Discuss the engineering of a canal system.

4. Use Model Magic® modeling compound to create a visual representation of a canal. Roll a long log of blue modeling compound to represent a river. Arrange the river on the table top. Use a different color Model Magic to create a canal connecting two parts of the river. Model Magic that is fresh from the pack will stick to itself.

5. Dried pieces can be glued together. Add additional engineering elements like locks to help the canal look more realistic. Need inspiration? Look at pictures of different canal systems.

6. Be creative! Embellish your model with a boat, mules or historical elements from the canal era.

Safety Guidelines

Adult supervision is required for any arts & crafts project. Observe children closely and intervene as necessary to prevent potential safety problems and ensure appropriate use of arts and crafts materials. Some craft items, particularly beads and buttons, are potential choking hazards for young children. Avoid use of such small parts with children younger than 3 years. Craft items such as scissors, push pins and chenille sticks may have sharp points or edges. Avoid use of materials with sharp points by children younger than 4 years. Read all manufacturers' safety warnings before using arts and craft supplies.

Adult Assistance is required for this arts & crafts project.

Crayola Modeling Materials including Crayola Model Magic®, and Model Magic Fusion™, Crayola Air-Dry Clay, and Crayola Dough—

  • Keep away from open flames. Do not use to make candleholders, hot plates, trivets, or other similar objects that will be used or placed near fire and other heat sources.
  • Do not put in an oven, microwave, or kiln.
  • Do not make into vessels/containers that will hold unpackaged food.
  • The use of modeling material to make items that look like food is discouraged for children younger than age 5 to avoid their confusion with real food.
  • Unless sealed with a water-resistant glaze, do not make projects exposed to or immersed in water, such as boats or outdoor bird feeders. They would disintegrate when exposed to moisture.
  • Crayola Dough—contains gluten (wheat flour) as an ingredient.
  • Crayola Air-Dry Clay, Crayola Model Magic and Model Magic Fusion are gluten-free. However, they are produced on the same machinery as Crayola Dough which does contain gluten. Although the machines are cleaned prior to the start of each production run, there is a slight possibility that trace amounts of gluten from Crayola Dough may be present in the other modeling compound products. For information regarding specific ingredients or allergic concerns, please call our Consumer Affairs department at 1-800-272-9652 weekdays between 9 AM and 4 PM Eastern Standard Time.

Modeling Tools—Use the least dangerous point or edge sufficient to do the job. For example, craft sticks, plastic knives and forks, and cookie cutters can cut or carve modeling materials.


  • Canals were used in Europe for many years before they were introduced in the United States. Learn about how the Europeans used canals for transportation.
  • Visit the National Canal Museum in Easton, PA. Distance an issue? Check it out online at www.canals.org.
  • The Panama Canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Research the history of this engineering marvel. Does the canal still meet transportation needs as well today as it did when it was created?

Related Lesson Plans

Lesson Plans

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crayola supplies
  • Model Magic®
household supplies
  • modeling tools



  • Grades 1 to 3
  • Grades 4 to 6


  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Visual Arts


  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • Multiple Sessions


  • Students compare and contrast traditional river transportation vehicles.

  • Children learn the problems associated with river transportation and discuss their ideas for engineering solutions.

  • Students discuss the canal system of transportation and analyze its construction.

  • Students design their own canal system replica using engineering elements discussed in class.


Research Canada Standards
Research UK Standards
Research U.S. Standards